“To get fit and lose weight, you have to exercise hard everyday, right? More is better, and exercising more often will get me to my goal faster.”
This is a common belief, but more is not always better.
There is no doubt that exercise is important, but its a small part of a bigger picture. In today’s busy and stressful world, most people don’t have the time or interest to build a life that revolves around working out 24-7 just to look and feel good.
More important than that, you don’t have to!
The good news is that you can get better results without spending more time in the gym or adding more workouts to your busy schedule. All you need to do is give a little TLC to something you’re already doing!
The Importance of Sleep
Sleep gives the body the opportunity to recover from exercise and grow. Your hormones, memory, concentration, and appetite are all affected by both the quality and quantity of your sleep.
While it is common to think “sleep is for the weak” and down another coffee to keep you going, you may want to reconsider this approach.
Sleep deprivation, a condition defined as not having enough quality sleep, is so widespread that it is considered a public health issue. Side effects of sleep deprivation include fatigue, adverse effects on brain and cognitive function, impaired immune system, increased stress hormone levels, increased risk of type II diabetes, and problems with attention and working memory.
In addition to potential health risks, all of the above can negatively impact your performance in the gym, ability to recover from training, and nutrition habits. If you want better results from training, don’t take sleep for granted!
What can you do to improve your sleep quality?
- Aim for the recommended 7-9 hours every night.
- Take naps if needed. Napping is a great way to stay focused, energized and sharp throughout the day. Make your naps 30 minutes or less to maximize benefits and avoid feeling sluggish after waking. If you have trouble sleeping through the night or find it hard to get 7-9 hours of sleep at night, napping is the solution!
- Keep the room cool and avoid extreme temperatures.
- Sleep in a dark room. Use a sleep mask or black out curtains to limit the amount of light.
- Limit use of electronic devices and social media before bed. Not only are interior and external lights the culprits, but also light from electronic devices (phones, tablets, TV, etc.). A common recommendation is to stop the use of electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime
Elite athletes, top companies and some of the most brilliant minds in history all recognized the health and performance benefits of quality sleep. Let’s take a page from their playbook!
Dhand, Rajiv, and Harjyot Sohal. “Good Sleep, Bad Sleep! The Role of Daytime Naps in Healthy Adults.” Current Opinion in Internal Medicine 6.1 (2007): 91-94. Web.
“SSE #113: Sleep and the Elite Athlete.” Gatorade Sports Science Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2016.
“How Many Hours of Sleep Should I Get | Sleep.org.” SleepOrg. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2016.
I have a new little brother!
Well, he’s not actually my brother but that’s what he calls himself. I started volunteering with Big Brothers & Big Sisters last year and I spend roughly 4 hours each week with my 9 year old “little”. Entertaining doesn’t quite describe our adventures.
I try to find something different to do each week, and so far we’ve gone to the movies, the zoo, a reptile house, and a trampoline park. Actually, we did the trampoline park twice and the second one had a ninja warrior course! I think this big kid had more fun than the little one that day.
When the weather is nice we spend a lot of time in the park playing games.
He tries to turn everything into a competition between us and does everything he can to stack the odds in his favor, like not telling me we are keeping score until he is ahead. I have to give him credit because he’s clever. I’ve been around a lot longer though, so his sneaky attempts at winning never work out like he wants them to.
This leads to a lot of conversations about playing games, sportsmanship, and the concept of winning. He’ll often say something like “If I win this game, you have to take me to McDonald’s and I get extra nuggets!” I usually play along, but raise the stakes for him by saying something like “Ok, no problem. But if I win, we go for pizza and I get to eat yours.”
“What?! I don’t want to play then. That’s not fair!”
Funny how that fairness thing only comes up when he’s not getting his way.
I’m teasing him, of course. He always wants to win with everything, but there’s a problem…
He doesn’t know how yet.
I try to help him with this where I can, but it’s tough and I’m sure anyone with kids can relate!
When we play basketball, he usually starts running around the court, pretending to be LeBron James, then tries to make some impossible shot. When he misses (as anyone would), he gets mad and starts putting himself down:
“This is ridiculous! Why can’t I make a shot? I’m no good at this”
I usually step in at this point with the same approach I use with clients struggling in the gym. My goal is to get him to calm down, understand why what he’s doing isn’t working, and help him figure out a better way. I usually say something like “you’re not bad, but you’re taking shots that are difficult for someone my size. Move closer and try a normal shot like we practiced.”
As always, once he listens, he makes the next several shots and the all is right in the world again.
“I can do it when I pay attention to what you said.”
I explain to him that “winning” isn’t automatic. It takes a lot of work, and no one wins all the time. Even more important, EVERYONE wants to win, and nobody is going to let you win just because you want to.
If winning is important to you, then learn how to win!
Same goes for fitness and any other area of self-improvement.
- Pay attention to what you’re doing instead of mindlessly going through the motions. This goes in the gym with exercises and at home with nutrition.
- When you’re paying attention, you’ll start to notice what is working for you. Keep doing that until it stops.
- For the things that aren’t working, change them. Make small changes to your approach, one thing at a time, until you’re getting the results you want.
- Keep it simple until you’re confident and can handle everything easily.
- Don’t quit because you’re frustrated or having a bad day. It happens to everyone. Your ability to manage this becomes important for future success, so hang in there!
Success and winning are not automatic, but you can be successful if you work at it. Put in the time to learn what works for you, pay attention to your actions, and improve them until you’re getting what you want. A simple and effective approach for almost guaranteed results!
It seems like it starts earlier every year…
For some, the holiday season starts with Halloween. For others, it’s the week or so before Thanksgiving. Whenever it begins for you, this time of year presents a challenge for your fitness routine. The holidays should be a pleasant time where we are thankful for the company of friends and family.
It often turns out to be the most stressful time of the year! Holiday parties, family gatherings, traveling to or hosting relatives, and all that shopping for the perfect gift. That’s a lot to handle!
With all the food related celebrations, holiday weight gain is a particularly stressful topic for many. It doesn’t have to be though, and I’m here to show that you can make it through happy, healthy, and without gaining weight! Below are a set of guidelines that will help you make your way.
Your Trusty Holiday Survival Guide
Rule 1: Maintain
If time is tight and you’re off your normal routine, trying to make progress while adjusting to all that is going on is a recipe for frustration. Focus on maintaining versus losing weight. This allows you to enjoy a few holiday meals without depriving yourself and removes any guilt associated with “falling off”. This is especially true around the holidays, but this rule can be applied to other hectic times of year as well.
Rule 2: Keep Exercising!
Time is tight and you may not be able to get to the gym for your usual high powered workout. That is fine, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop completely. Remember, the goal is to maintain. 20-30 minutes of exercise will keep you in the habit, improve your mood if you’re stressed, keeps your appetite in check, and helps maintain your current fitness level. If you don’t have 30 minutes, research shows that 10 minutes of intense exercise can be just as effective as 30 minutes of moderate activity. Have at it!
Rule 3: Stick to a schedule and don’t skip meals
A plan is helpful for most situations, so take a few minutes and make a new schedule for your current situation. Start by eating a good breakfast and eating throughout the day. This will make overeating at dinner less likely.
Rule 4: Get rid of leftovers
Freeze them, send them home with guests, do something with them, just don’t leave them sitting around for you to pick at over the next few days.
Rule 5: Make one trip and make it count!
It is tempting to say “forget this, lets eat!” and turn every holiday dinner into a free for all. Just remember that you are in control here. If you are serious about staying focused on your fitness and weight loss goals, you can have your cake or pie and eat it too (what’s the point if you can’t eat it?). Use the “one plate” rule for parties and family gatherings. You are allowed one plate at dinner, no second trips. Choose your favorites and enjoy.
This is something I have always done during the holidays, Thanksgiving in particular. When I was in high school, basketball tryouts were always early the morning after Thanksgiving. Pigging out wasn’t an option, but I didn’t want to miss out on apple pie, mom’s mac & cheese and my other favorites either. I experimented with this idea and found it to be a perfect compromise between having a satisfying dinner and still being able to perform on the court the next day. It worked wonders for me then, and it will work for you too!
Rule 6: Enjoy yourself!
You’ve worked your tail off in the gym and been mindful about nutrition all year. Don’t stress out over a few holiday meals and a few missed days in the gym. There’s an entire year around the corner for you to make it up. It’s good to take a break from mentally and physically pushing yourself so you can recover and continue to reach for bigger and better goals. Consider this your break. Holidays are meant to be enjoyed with friends and family, so relax and enjoy the company!
Lift. Eat. Sleep. Stretch. Don’t eat a lot of garbage.
If you came to my gym looking to train and asked how to get results, this is what I would tell you. How much of each and how often depends on the goal, but this is the general message.
Most people agree, and follow the program even if they are slow to implement the changes. Some will disagree and want to argue, which is fine. Education is part of the process and through these conversations they also come around and eventually follow the program.
Every now and then I meet someone that doesn’t want to listen. Not just to me, they don’t listen to anyone! Instead of taking the advice of their coach, they try several approaches at once or switch from one to the next weekly in the pursuit of instant gratification.
Flustered and frustrated after several attempts, stops, starts, resets and jump starts they eventually come to ask me “what should I do? I’ve tried everything and nothing is working!”
Stop trying to do everything. Pick one approach and give it a chance to work.
While I’d be thrilled if everyone followed my recommendations, I understand that everyone has different goals, interests, time commitments and motivations. The approach I use works, but it isn’t for everyone.
No matter what fitness or nutrition approach you take, amazing results don’t come overnight. Yes, I’ve had clients see visible progress in one week, but this does not happen with everyone. Expecting a completely different body or big changes in strength in a week or less is unrealistic and guaranteed to bring frustration.
As long as its not something dangerous or some silly fad diet (you would not believe half the stories I’ve heard!), give any program a minimum of 4-6 weeks before changing to something else.
4 weeks allows you to mentally and physically adjust and get the early mistakes out of the way. This is enough time to figure out if you can sustain this approach long term. It takes more than a week or two to figure these things out and get settled, so be patient! If the program is solid, it will work and you’ll get results. If not, go ahead with Plan B.
The “trick” to getting results is simple – be consistent. That’s it. You don’t need to do anything extreme or complicated! Whether it’s getting stronger in the weight room, losing inches through better nutrition, or even something not fitness related like saving money, consistent effort over time brings success. Make this your focus, instead of looking for a different approach.
A home gym can be a great thing
When I moved home after college, I didn’t have a car and my work schedule made it difficult to get to the gym. There was no way I was giving up my new favorite thing, so I bought a weight set with the tips from my room service job. I cleared some space in basement and drove my family nuts by using it all hours of the day and night. It was amazing! I could train at my own pace, didn’t have to worry about waiting for equipment, didn’t have to feel weird or self conscious learning (and struggling with) new exercises, and cleanliness wasn’t an issue. All the benefits of the gym, none of the downsides!
Or so I thought…
Despite the benefits, there are drawbacks to training at home as well. The convenience makes it easier to put off. I sometimes found myself saying “yeah, I’ll do it later” over and over until it was 1 A.M. and too late to train without waking everyone up. We had a running joke at a gym I worked in long ago that most home gyms were fancy, expensive clothes racks because the initial excitement and “motivation” can wear off quickly. Limited space and equipment can make it feel monotonous at times. And the biggest culprit, being at home means there are more potential distractions!
3 ways to beat the most common challenges to training at home
1 – Get on a schedule and stick to it.
Having a gym at home increases the likelihood of brushing it off. Fix this by making an appointment for yourself and keeping it. Set an alarm, put a reminder in your phone, whatever you have to do to make it work. Treat your training time just like going to the gym, because that is exactly what you are doing!
2 – No interruptions while training.
Gym, home, outside, this is mandatory regardless of where you’re training. Unless it is an absolute emergency it can wait. Don’t check your phone, email, or social media. Enjoy the silence and use the time to improve yourself.
3 – You don’t need a ton of exercises or equipment to get results.
Variety is key for progress and avoiding burnout. Learn some new exercises or variations, change the tempo, add more sets, more reps. These are just a few ways to get more from your program. Read more here if you have questions about equipment or setting up your gym.
If you have children and can’t leave them, try The 10 Minute Workout.
For those days when it just seems impossible to find an hour for yourself, The 10 Minute Workout is your “go to” solution. I’ve had clients make it an activity and have their kids do some of the exercises with them.
For many, the feeling of soreness after a workout can provide a sense of accomplishment, making you feel like you really pushed yourself. While the feeling may be enjoyable, soreness is not an indicator of progress or the effectiveness of a workout.
What is soreness?
Soreness comes from damage to muscle tissue caused by stress and overload. To put it another way, do more than your body is currently used to and you’ll end up sore. A long walk after a few weeks without exercise can cause muscle soreness, but few would call that a good workout.
This may sound bad, but it can be a good thing! Overloading the body is important for making progress, and at some point you have to push beyond your current ability level. The other side to this overload picture is adaptation, which is what happens when the body “catches up” and gets used to what you are asking of it.
For a better understanding of this “overload and adaptation” thing, let’s take a look at something called General Adaptation Syndrome.
General Adaptation Syndrome, a 3 stage set of physiological processes, was discovered by scientist and physician Hans Selye in 1926. This set of processes prepare the body for danger and increase the chances of survival.
Selye identified 3 predictable stages that the body uses as a response to stress:
- Alarm Stage. A burst of energy is provided. Adrenaline and cortisol are released, preparing for the “fight or flight” response.
- Resistance Stage. The body attempts to resist or adapt.
- Exhaustion Stage. The body fails to adapt to the stressful stimulus and will gradually deteriorate over time
What does all of this mean?
If you are constantly chasing soreness in your workouts, you are not allowing your body time to adapt. As stated above, if the body does not adapt it will deteriorate over time. At best, this will limit your progress in the gym. At worst, you’ll end up sick, injured and unable to train.
Here are better ways to measure the effectiveness of your workouts:
- More weight for an exercise
- Less rest needed between sets or to complete a session
- More sets of an exercise
- More reps performed at a given weight for an exercise
- For athletes, a noticeable transfer of power, speed, or endurance to your sport.
- For the rest of us, an easier time with everyday tasks (stairs, carrying bags, yard work, etc)
Remember, soreness isn’t the goal. Progress is. Train hard AND train smart!
“I don’t want to get bulky. Lifting weights makes you big, and I don’t want to look like a man.”
This myth is repeated far more often than it should be. A quick look at any social media platform shows you this just isn’t true! If you are seriously concerned about building too much muscle or having an undesirable physique, worry no more. With a little information, we can hopefully put this thing to rest once and for all.
These are my answers to the two most common questions I get from people with concerns about resistance training.
1 – Can a resistance training program make me bigger? Yes, but this is not a guarantee. While many start lifting with the intent to get bigger, there are three very important things to keep in mind:
1) A caloric surplus causes weight gain. Building muscle, and gaining weight in general, requires you to eat more. The quality and quantity of your nutrition affects your appearance and physical performance. Don’t want to get bigger? Keep your nutrition in check. Honestly, it is that simple.
2) There are ways to train without putting on size. Nutrition aside, there are other factors that go into a resistance training program – frequency (number of training sessions per week), training volume (amount of work per session), and training intensity (percentage of your maximum capacity). All of these factors can be adjusted to improve fitness, speed, power, strength and conditioning WITHOUT putting on size. This approach is used by weight class athletes like boxers, martial artists, wrestlers, and others that need the benefits of strength training without gaining additional weight.
3) Women are at a disadvantage when it comes to building muscle. Testosterone, the primary muscle building hormone, is less present in women than men. This doesn’t mean women cannot build muscle, it just requires more work. Which takes us to question number two…
2 – Can you get “big and bulky” casually training a few times week? If only it were that easy! Unless you’re blessed with perfect weight room genes, nope. Even under the most ideal conditions, it takes A LOT of work. Gaining serious muscle takes hours upon hours of training, precise and often restricted nutrition, a schedule built around exercise, and anabolic steroids in many cases. A few hours a week in the gym isn’t enough to make this a possibility.
For women afraid of “looking like a man” or “getting bigger”, you can lift, get stronger, get leaner, and enjoy the many benefits of resistance training with no worry of this outdated myth based on false assumptions.